Taking the fall best way to help Labor off its knees
Julia Gillard could take a leaf out of Peter Beattie’s book, writes ROSS
Accepting full responsibility for Labor’s devastating loss which occurred in Queensland on March 24 last year was an unusual thing for former premier Peter Beattie to do. But that is exactly what he did in a front-page story in Brisbane’s ‘Courier-Mail’ last Friday. It headlined with: ”It’s my fault” and a huge photograph of Beattie.
I have followed Beattie’s political career for more than 30 years and know that would not have been easy for him to do, bearing in mind his healthy ego and the little respect he has for many of the decisions of the Bligh government.
So why such frank acceptance of blame now? Put simply, it enables the ALP in Queensland to start rebuilding with a fresh team now there is someone to blame. Modern politics needs someone to take responsibility and Beattie put up his hand.
With Anna Bligh and her husband moving to Sydney last year, there was no one else to do it.
Beattie rightly pointed out in his comments that if he or Bligh or former deputy premiers Paul Lucas and Andrew Fraser were in any way involved in the next state election, due in two years’ time, it would be a political gift for Premier Campbell Newman and his re-election campaign. In reality it would keep Labor’s potential gains to a bare minimum.
Beattie said he had grown to regret grooming and installing the senior team of the Bligh government – Anna Bligh, Paul Lucas and Andrew Fraser – who led Labor to its worst defeat.
While Beattie’s comments may effectively end his public career as a Labor politician, they were necessary to afford the ALP in Queensland an opportunity to preselect some of Labor’s rising stars who had their careers cut short by the LNP super-landslide in 2012.
With Labor having only seven seats in Queensland’s unicameral Parliament of 89 members, the ALP is in a desperate position which is having federal implications.
With the upcoming federal election, the ALP in Kevin Rudd’s home state needs all the support it can get to avoid a repeat of the Western Australian state election debacle where a re-elected premier, Colin Barnett, rightly said that Prime Minister Julia Gillard had harmed the Labor brand.
There would be many federal MPs, panicking over retaining their seats in September, who must be wishing Gillard would put aside her ego and hatred of Rudd and do a Beattie by accepting responsibility for the Labor government’s poor standing and then putting the ALP first by standing down in favour of Bill Shorten, Greg Combet or Rudd.
There is a lesson here for federal Labor to follow but it has come too late. The Labor government has reached the point of no return.
The fight over the ALP leadership is being driven by internal hatred within the government without any concern for Australia’s welfare, and Australians know it. This was dramatically demonstrated by the senior ministers viciously attacking Rudd last year during the leadership challenge. This political stupidity has effectively given Tony Abbott an election win regardless of whether Gillard or Rudd leads Labor.
As a result, come September, Australians will take out their frustrations on Labor regardless of who is leading the government and the result will not be pretty.
The re-election of the Barnett government is just another Labor loss following on from the thrashings in Queensland and NSW and the loss in the Northern Territory election. The ALP has forgotten how to win and is heading for a generation in the political wilderness.
As for federal Labor, the majority of caucus seems to prefer losing than to facing up to the political reality of their position. Denial seems to be the overriding sentiment among the MPs who are either too weak or too intimidated to act.
Gillard may have set the longest election campaign in Australian history but the result seems to be already known.
So what happens in the ALP after September 14 when Gillard has relinquished the leadership and the ALP, suffering from heavy losses, sets about trying to choose the next leader? Will Rudd return to the leadership or walk away leaving Labor in a mess of its own making?
No one should assume Rudd will want or take the leadership again. He may be content to let the party wonder whether he could have turned the election result around if he had returned to the prime ministership. That would be sweet revenge for Rudd but devastating for Labor.
It wouldn’t really matter whether Shorten or Combet reached an agreement for one to become leader and the other deputy leader. The road back to government would be a long one and Labor’s next prime minister may not even be in the current federal parliament.
All this was avoidable if Gillard and Rudd had put the interests of the government ahead of themselves.
Emeritus Professor Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 35 books, including the political satire ‘Fools’ Paradise’.
The Canberra Times, March 15, 2013